Omni Daily Crush: "Pop. 1280"

Once again, I had a Crush all planned, only to be drawn onto another path by the events of the day. Well, such is the way of crushes... This time, it was a conversation between the cubicles with my colleagues Daphne and Anne that diverted me. Daphne was sifting through a heap of books, trying to decide on her next read after being stuck on a few false starts with books that didn't click right away. Anne's diagnosis: "You need something that grabs you from the first page." Somehow Jim Thompson's name came up, and while Daphne tried to remember the Thompsons she's loved (which turned out to be A Hell of a Woman and After Dark, My Sweet), I started gushing about my own favorite, Pop. 1280, and pretty soon, it sounded to me like a Crush.

I first started hearing about Jim Thompson 20 years ago--about the time there was a little boomlet of adaptations of his books into movies (The Grifters, After Dark, My Sweet, and, a few years later, the Baldwin/Basinger remake of The Getaway), and the first book of his I picked up was Pop. 1280. (I'm a sucker for a novel with a number in the title: 2666, 361, ...) It didn't take more than a page or two to reel me in. Here we go:

Well, sir, I should have been sitting pretty, just about as pretty as a man could sit. Here I was, the high sheriff of Potts County, and I was drawing almost two thousand dollars a year--not to mention what I could pick up on the side. On top of that, I had free living quarters on the second floor of the courthouse, just as nice a place as a man could ask for; and it even had a bathroom so I didn't have to bathe in a washtub or tramp outside to a privy, like most folks in town did. I guess you could say that Kingdom Come was really here as far as I was concerned. I had it made, and it looked like I could go on having it made--being high sheriff of Potts County--as long as I minded my own business and didn't arrest no one unless I just couldn't get out of it and they didn't amount to nothin'.

And yet I was worried. I had so many troubles that I was worried plumb sick.

I'd sit down to a meal of maybe a half dozen pork chops and a few fried eggs and a pan of hot biscuits with grits and gravy, and I couldn't eat it. Not all of it. I'd start worrying about those problems of mine, and the next thing you knew I was getting up from the table with food still on my plate.

Sheriff Nick Corey is one of the all-time unreliable narrators: you know he's playing dumb--"who wants a smart sheriff?" he says--but it's not quite clear just how dumb he's playing it, or whether he's being played himself, and that of course is the giddy pleasure of it all. It's a dark and filthy little tale, and pretty much unbeatable fun. Thompson himself comes across, here and elsewhere, as the hardest of the hard-boiled, painting a world filled with nothing but schemers and self-dealers. There are times when that brutally unsentimental view seems the most refreshing and moral of all. --Tom

Recommended for fans of Elmore Leonard, Red Rock West, and James M. Cain's Double Indemnity.

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You forgot to mention the great film adaptation of Pop 1280, Coup de Torchon, directed by Bertrand Tavernier and starring Phillipe Noiret and Isabelle Huppert. The wild west setting is transplanted to French Colonial Africa, and the tone of the movie is almost as delightfully perverse as that of the book

Posted by: Mark Polak | Monday November 30, 2009 at 12:23 PM

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